Water Freezes at 150mph
by Kenneth Bryan Villagoneza
Living almost my whole life as an orphan, I am fascinated watching how family’s bond get so strong. How sometimes they bicker on simple things. How they grow apart and live with a family of their own, then miss each other but during reunions all they talk about is how to divide their inheritance. Why would the eldest gets to own the family business? How the youngest has lived his life away from the responsibilities and that he does not deserve a single penny from the inheritance. Relatives that looks down on you. Sometimes blood isn't thicker than water. Hopefully, most of the time it is. People like me could yearn for family and other people could take it for granted. Is it greed? Is it the love for earthly belongings?
Well, I wouldn’t understand because I grew up as an orphan and I have no concept of the term family or relatives, whatsoever. The closest I have learned to the true meaning of family is when my friend Yolanda told me a story of her fruitful encounter with a simple family. Yolanda and I stayed in the same orphanage for quite some time. And this is how the story goes.
The whistling kettle brought Inday’s consciousness back to the land of the living. The hot water will be emptied sooner than it was boiled and fill the mugs of instant coffee on the dining table. The old table would rock unbalanced if it is not for the rubber cut from an old slipper and slipped under one of the table’s legs that kept the furniture in place. Breads inside a brown paper bag will be dipped in the coffee and eaten soaked. It is the usual breakfast of the family of seven.
In the Philippines, living in one of the slum areas in the city, bread and coffee is how the day starts. It will then be followed by the annoying sound from the neighbor’s sound system in a frequency that even the deaf could hear. This boosts self-pride and trigger the envy ears of the neighbors even if the stereo was only bought in installment with a past due payment for a month or two. Some unfortunate days, another neighbor would compete with a stereo bought by the foreign remittance of the eldest daughter who decided to work as a caregiver somewhere in the Middle East to help her family.
Although it was already July of 2013, the summer heat has no intention of leaving the country. The blaring sound and the busy neighborhood intensified the heat that even hell wouldn’t want to compete.
“I’ll have to go. These past few months, orders kept coming and this day won’t be any different,” her husband Mario said after sipping the last drop of coffee from his mug. Mario drives a dropside truck delivering water for a small refilling station in the city.
“As long as you put food on the table, do what you want,” Inday’s face was far from that righteous being kneeling inside the church every Sunday.
The husband left just when their eldest daughter, Nene was coming in from her graveyard shift. Nene decided to quit school and worked as a call center agent to give way to her younger siblings’ education. She was just in the training stage of her career, which will soon turn her into a full-pledged fraud, scamming old people’s pocket into giving donations for the breast cancer victims or the military veterans. Only God knows where these donations go after they leave the bank accounts of these clueless people. Nene went straight to her bed which was actually an inch thick foam laid in the floor inside a room shared with the entire family. She would sleep unperturbed even against the combined sound of Mariah Carey’s voice threatening to escape the neighbor’s speaker box and her three siblings’ noisy footsteps on the bamboo floor while preparing themselves to school.
“Mother!” said the three in unison while lifting up their opened palm as if beggars asking for alms.
“Here you go,” said Inday as she handed five peso coins to each of her child.
“Don’t buy those stupid spiders again, Toto. I’ll make you eat them if I see them again next time!” Inday berated.
“I’ll make sure you won’t find any next time, mother.” Toto replied with a mischievous smile.
“Ana, you better finish that packed lunch. You’ll have your dinner with your father's chickens if there is even a bit of food left on your lunch box.” Inday added, the wrinkles evident on her forehead.
“Jojo, you take care of your younger siblings!” she chased as they were leaving the front door.
As the three minions left, Inday handed a bottle of milk to her youngest two year old who was busy playing with a toy. The toy was a freebie from a fast food restaurant they got the last time their family went together after church. She then proceeded making ice and iced water in a plastic bag which occupies almost seventy-five percent of their old refrigerator apart from the used ice cream container with half a kilo of raw fish inside.
Working in a water refilling station, her husband gets purified water in a much lower price than regular customers. When she’s not busy gossiping with her neighbors, she made it a past time to sell ice and iced water to quench the thirst of the neighbors. In fact, only one container of water which her husband gets for ten pesos could fill sixty plastics which she could sell as ice for five peso each. Her ten peso and an old refrigerator can produce three hundred pesos in less than a day. Exploitative yet genius. One might think she was Bill Gates in her past life. And she's one of the reason why aliens visit earth and study human minds.
“Inday! Three packs of ice please!” yelled her fat neighbor Linda outside their doorstep.
Inday left what she was doing and took three packs of ice and put it on a used plastic bag. She handed them to Linda.
“Do you know what’s latest?” Inday asked her neighbor.
“Spill it out,” replied Linda which is the famous response for this question coming from their kind.
“The eldest daughter of Maria is pregnant. That poor child, she was on the top of their class,” Inday sighed in dismay. Genuinity is evident in her face, or the lack thereof.
“Children nowadays. If that happens to my daughter, I will surely disown her,” says the fat neighbor who had her first child in the age of seventeen.
“And here’s another juicy one,” added Inday and you can neither tell if she’s talking about a medium rare steak or a freshly picked orange, “Isko, Sita’s son who failed his Electrical Engineering board exam and can’t find a decent job is now living with a gay man.” Oh, that's what she meant when she mentioned juicy.
“No one ever knows what one can do for the sake of money,” Linda replied.
They’ve talked a lot about other people’s lives that Linda’s packs of ice already turned to water. Going to church every Sunday and talking behind other people’s back on the remaining six days of the week is their kind of thing. It seems like listening about the failure of others makes them a better person. And it was not just the two of them. They are actually a highly organized group & Inday’s house is the rendezvous. They can see and hear rumors about their neighbor even way before CCTV cameras were invented.
“I have to go, my friend,” Linda said her goodbye.
“Bye!” replied Inday in a tone as if her daily mission has been fulfilled thinking that it isn’t even half of the day.
Inday went back to her golden duty. A few minutes of packing ice, there was a knock at the door.
“Linda? Are you back?” she asked.
“No, my name is Yolanda,” a child’s voice replied.
“What do you want, child? You are so dirty, you’re scaring away the customers,” the words that came from the mouth of a regular church-goer.
“Auntie, I saw from your signage that you are selling iced water. I’ve been walking all day and the street felt like a desert. I have no money, but can you please give me something to drink?” asked the girl.
“No, our water is not for free, go ask someone else. Don’t you have parents?” the angry voice of Inday.
“I’m sorry, but no. I am an orphan. So please, can you give me a glass of water. My throat feels dry,” Yolanda begged.
“I’m sorry but we are out of water. You see, the neighbors already bought them all,” replied Inday as she shooed the poor girl away.
“Oh, you are out of water, auntie? I am so sad for you. You must be thirsty as well. Don’t you worry, when I get the chance, I will be back one day and bring you lots of water so you will be quenched,” said the child before walking away.
Inday went back inside the house and tried to forget the annoying child. Time passed by quickly and July turned to August and August turned to September. When the “ber” months entered, Christmas decorations filled the crowded neighborhood along with the entire country. Christmas for Filipinos starts when the spelling of the month ends in “ber”. Being a Christian is one of the footprints left by the Spaniards to the Filipinos. The voice of Mariah Carey from the neighbor’s stereo was replaced by a local singer, Jose Mari Chan. Inday had her husband Mario, hang last year’s Christmas lights outside the house. Christmas means giving and sharing. Neighbor's would even give you a cooked pasta out of nowhere and as perfectionist as you are, you'd claim that it got bland taste that it made you feel afraid of being infected with Covid.
With the holiday season, there is always hope everywhere and it should be felt in the air. The scorching summer heat was even replaced by the cold air of the "ber" months. Parents buy new clothes for their children. Children starts getting excited about the Christmas vacation. It is also a pleasant time to brag about the gifts of a family member working abroad. A much bigger and louder 15 inch speaker box to wake up the neighbors. Neighbors giving out foods out of the kindness of their heart. If you smell that delicious roasted meat on your neighbors front lawn and you feel like they wouldn't invite you, take initiative and return that hammer you borrowed last week. They'd feel embarrass not to invite you for dinner when you are already there. What an exciting part of the year. Every Filipinos yearn for the "ber" months to come
But then came November. Out of nowhere, Inday’s old friend Yolanda returned with her promise. Water was available to quench their thirst. This time, she was not a beggar anymore. She was confident and fierce. Nearing Christmas season, she came with the gift of water but nobody felt grateful. Nobody laughed nor smile. Nobody was angry to the dirty child begging for a glass of water. The only pauper who was begging is you. And instead of water quenching your thirst, you'd ask for canned goods, noodles, relief goods and anything the government's disaster risk team could offer. Gone was the hope brought by the Christmas air. The day Yolanda came back dancing in a swirling motion brought horror not only on Inday’s face. . . her family. . .her gossiping friends. . .the annoying neighbors. . . the entire country. . . and maybe half the rest of the world. This is because the girl that Inday and her neighbors knew locally as Yolanda is known internationally as Haiyan.
Typhoon Yolanda shared her waters throughout the Philippine archipelago. It has killed more than 6,000 people in that country alone. It was supposed to be a time of nostalgia. It was almost Christmas. The time of the year when a certain Inday would be generous enough to share a glass of water to a stranger. When a certain Mario would feel excited in receiving his Christmas bonus and thirteenth month pay. When a certain Nene has the freedom to choose, either enjoying the holidays with her colleagues or preparing herself in going back to school. When all children are longing for gifts and the tastiest of ham and meat that could only be seen on their table this time of the year.
Instead, what people had is chaos, death and sorrow. Not all family stood intact in such a cruel disaster. Gone is the sister you like to take your anger away. Gone is the strict mother whom you wished to be replaced by someone else's mother just because she couldn't buy you a gown for the Christmas Dance at school. Gone is the pet dog you always forget to feed because you'd rather hang along your neighbor's house playing video games.
And as much as we want to make ourselves believe that Yolanda is a natural calamity, it is actually man-made. It is brought about by people’s greed. Even though we can’t accept it, it is a fact that we took more than what we need from nature. And nature wanted to take it back.
How fascinating the concept of family is. I wish I had my own family. Telling you this story, my friend. . . it made me kinda thirsty. Could you spare a glass of water for me, my friend?
By the way, my name is Goni and if ever I had a family, I might fit well with Inday’s family. Because just like Mario and Inday, I also have a job of bringing water to people. Lots of water, just like my friend Yolanda. And just incase my fellow Filipinos are listening, you can call me Rolly as local weather reporters would put it.